It's quite apparent from the opening bars of the latest Rose Chronicles album, Happily Ever After, that change is in the air. While still washed in their trademark ethereal sound, the axis of the disc revolves around a rawer, less meticulously-produced sound. Although still swirling in luscious pirouettes reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, vocalist Kristy Thirsk and guitarist Richard Maranda have added an edge that was merely negligible on their previous release, 1994's Shiver.
Signing with Nettwerk Records in 1992, after, amazingly, playing only two live shows, Rose Chronicles released the critically-acclaimed EP Dead and Gone to Heaven in 1993. Shortly afterwards, the Vancouver group provided their first full-length, Shiver, which also yielded favourable reviews. Thirsk says, "When we signed with Nettwerk, Richard and myself never went out shopping for labels. We were young and just surprised at how quickly things were happening. Anyhow, I just thought, wow, that's Sarah McLachlan's label!"
While the band was only in the studio for two months to record Happily Ever After, three producers found their way onto the album's jacket credits. Twiddling the dials at various times, Greg Reely, Mike Plotnikoff (The Cranberries, Devlins) and Kevin Hamilton (Moist, Mollies Revenge) each left their own indelible mark on Happily Ever After. Why three producers?
"It wasn't by choice," Thirsk explains. "What happened was that Greg didn't really produce. We produced and did pre-production with Kevin. We liked his ideas and mixes but we didn't want everything to sound the same. I guess you could say we wanted to put different flavours into the songs. So we hired Greg to do some of the mixes and kept some of Kevin's mixes."
They handed the tapes over to Nettwerk, but the company wasn't completely satisfied with the end result. "They wanted a rawer sound, and they thought that the single ['Voice in Jail'] wasn't coming across the way it should. So we contacted Mike and went up to Bryan Adams' studio and re-mixed a few songs."
Often compared to vocalist Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, Thirsk seems comfortable with the similarity. "At first I felt really insecure about that. She is an influence -- but then so is Siouxsie and the Banshees, even Cyndi Lauper. But now as long as I'm not compared to someone who sucks, it's fine. It's better than if someone said 'You sound like tires squealing.'"
With a hint of the surreal, Happily Ever After gorgeously smothers the mind with layers of sweet soundscapes. Centered on Maranda's guitar textures and Thirsk's soprano, it is quite easy to become gently bathed in the sonic beauty of the album.
Lyrically, however, there are trolls under every bridge, as Thirsk's delicious hiccuppy-vocals gloss over the sombre lyrical content culled from her pen. Betraying the beautiful atmosphere of "Acquiesce," Thirsk sings, "See me dance through the noose/Will I choke to death/When I'm laughing?" Asked where she finds inspiration for her lyrics, she says dryly, "From the darkest pits of hell." Questioned further, she jokingly pinpoints this to be the Starbucks on Commercial Drive.
"I can't say I'll never write a happy-hippy pop song, but I just write what comes naturally to me. We named the album Happily Ever After simply because we thought it was an ironic title and reality doesn't usually have storybook endings. I do have a feeling, though, that on the next Alannis [Morrisette] album her songs aren't going to be that angry. I don't see how she can be angry anymore."
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